5 smart reads for the weekend

The Week's Editorial Staff

A fawning 2010 profile of the disgraced David Petraeus. An exploration of the limits of computer security. And more compelling, of-the-moment stories to dive into

1. "David Petraeus's winning streak"
Mark Bowden, Vanity Fair

Last last week, CIA Director David Petraeus, a four-star general widely credited as his generation's greatest military mind, shocked the nation when he resigned his post amid reports of an extramarital affair with biographer Paula Broadwell. The media has spent the past week unraveling the increasingly complex case, with bizarre new details cropping up on a nearly daily basis. How did a man so revered fall so low? In a companion piece to "The Professor of War," an extended 2010 profile of David Petraeus in Vanity Fair, Mark Bowden discusses how Petraeus rose from his Little League days to the height of U.S. military command. Bowden's account is now laced with unintentional irony:

"In high school at Cornwall-on-Hudson, in the late 1960s, they gave David Petraeus the name 'Peaches,' because his cheeks were fair and rosy and incapable of sprouting more than a faint aura of soft fuzz, and because he was so resolutely wholesome. Nicknames stick when they capture something essential about a person. 'Peaches' would stay with Petraeus through his cadet years at West Point, partly because he never lost that freshness in his appearance, but partly also, one suspects, because the word as slang implies something too fresh and wholesome to be true. It was an early recognition that something about this boy was … well, Petraean."

Read the rest of the story at Vanity Fair.

2. "Opening night"
Katherine Boo, The New Yorker

On Thursday, Katherine Boo won the National Book Award for nonfiction for her book Beyond the Beautiful Forevers: Life, Death, and Hope in a Mumbai Undercity, which chronicles the lives of several impoverished Indians living in the shadow of Mumbai's most luxurious hotels. In 2009, Boo, a Pulitzer Prize-winning writer and a staffer at The New Yorker, earned acclaim for another portrait of impoverished Mumbai, set during the city's premiere of the film Slumdog Millionaire:

"Worldly Indians like to call Mumbai, the financial capital, their country’s New York City. That would make the airport area, in the suburbs, its Queens. Mumbai’s Queens, though, has more glamour. Around the hotels, stands of sleek office buildings are multiplying rapidly; one of them is named simply More. Gautam Nagar is named after the eight-year-old son of a scavenger who succumbed to pneumonia after one of the periodic slum demolitions. The community consists of approximately a thousand human residents; seventeen water buffalo; goats, dogs, and pigs; and two white horses striped to look like zebras—the handiwork of a once fearsome slumlord, now gone batty. The primary industry here is the gathering of airport garbage for recycling—work made a little less miserable by expanded global markets and India’s surging G.D.P. Over the past five years, there were enough water bottles, earbuds, Diet Coke cans, used tampon applicators, batteries, and copies of Indian Vogue to lift the majority of families over the World Bank’s poverty line, which is currently twenty-two rupees a day in India’s cities."

Read the rest of the story at The New Yorker.

3. "Kill the password: Why a string of characters can't protect us anymore"
Mat Honan, Wired

As technology continues to evolve at an exponential rate, is there anything even the tech-savviest of us can do to protect our most personal information? Wired's Mat Honan, who suffered an extensive hack this summer, dives into the world of computer security — and concludes that even the strongest passwords are woefully inadequate to fend off modern-day hackers:

"This summer I learned how to get into, well, everything. With two minutes and $4 to spend at a sketchy foreign website, I could report back with your credit card, phone, and Social Security numbers and your home address. Allow me five minutes more and I could be inside your accounts for, say, Amazon, Best Buy, Hulu, Microsoft, and Netflix. With yet 10 more, I could take over your AT&T, Comcast, and Verizon. Give me 20—total—and I own your PayPal. Some of those security holes are plugged now. But not all, and new ones are discovered every day. The common weakness in these hacks is the password. It’s an artifact from a time when our computers were not hyper-connected. Today, nothing you do, no precaution you take, no long or random string of characters can stop a truly dedicated and devious individual from cracking your account. The age of the password has come to an end; we just haven’t realized it yet."

Read the rest of the story at Wired.

4. "The Bloomberg Way"
James Bennet, The Atlantic

As Mayor of New York City, Michael Bloomberg is accustomed to plenty of public scrutiny, but he's rarely faced as much attention as he has in the wake of Hurricane Sandy, which devastated many of the city's residents. As recovery continues, here's a recent, extended interview with Mayor Bloomberg, covering everything from his hands-on style of governance to his notoriously direct personal manner:

"You could look at Michael Bloomberg—astringent, profane, irritated by small talk, impatient with the politics of empathy—and see a plutocrat whose billions have given him the freedom to say and do whatever he wants, even to change the law to run for a third term as New York City’s mayor. Or you could look a little further and see a more interesting pattern: a man who turned getting shunted off the fast track at Salomon Brothers—over to information technology, no place for a fledgling master of the financial universe—into an opportunity, creating an entirely new approach to getting traders the data they needed; who took getting fired as a chance to gamble his payout on this idea; who then took the billions he made and chose not to embark on a lifelong vacation but to step into the least-forgiving political arena in the country; and who has since governed New York assertively, putting himself in the vanguard of a generation of mayors who, at a time when the federal government is paralyzed, are testing new approaches to education, transportation, and public health. You begin to see a guy, in sum, who thinks for himself, but not only of himself."

Read the rest of the story at The Atlantic. 

5. "The Untitled Lincoln Love Story Project"
Katya Apekina, Joyland

On Friday, Steven Spielberg's Lincoln — a biopic of the iconic president, based partly on Dorothy Kearns Goodwin's bestselling Team of Rivals — expanded into wide release. Admiring critics have singled out star Daniel Day-Lewis for brilliantly channeling the accepted truth about President Lincoln. Meanwhile, a wholly fictional movie about a gay Lincoln — and the effect its troubled production has on the lives of its cast and crew — is the subject of a highly speculative April 2012 short story. An excerpt:

Lincoln’s eyelashes cast long shadows in the firelight. They jump along the man’s rib cage, tangle in his armpit hair. A folded suit jacket is being used as a pillow. A stovepipe hat rolls slowly from side to side on the rug at their feet. The man’s even breathing indicates sleep. Lincoln closes his eyes for a second, the shadow from his eyelashes jumping back down to his own face. He sits up. “John,” he whispers, gently shaking the man awake. John opens his eyes and kisses Lincoln’s wrist. He looks like he is about to speak, but Lincoln nervously clamps a hand over his mouth. A faint sound of footsteps in the hallway. A crackle of a log in the fire. Lincoln gets dressed. John’s eyes are cast in shadow. He gets up and stretches, still naked. A knock on the door. Lincoln gathers John’s clothing from the floor and throws it in the wardrobe.

Read the rest of the story at Joyland.

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